Henrik Lundqvist 5

One Goal In Mind

Just three more days before we officially see the Rangers on the ice in their first preseason game against the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers will go into the game with several positions yet to be determined, but at least one is already settled.

Today’s Ranger Countdown focuses on netminder Henrik Lundqivst. While the team brought in Martin Biron to help out the Swedish netminder, there’s no question who’ll be #1.

Player Profile
Heading into his sixth season with the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist is still looking for a long run into the playoffs. Despite four appearances, the Swedish netminder has a relatively disappointing 2-4 series record against five different opponents.

He’s played 368 NHL games, and appeared in two Olympics, including taking home the gold for Sweden in 2006. He’s played a lot of hockey for anyone, let alone a netminder.

Last season he appeared in a career high 73 games, which also set a Rangers single season record, breaking the mark posted by Mike Richter in 1997-98 and matched by Lundqvist ten seasons later. In fact he’s only the second Ranger to record two or more seasons with 70+ games, and he’s actually made that mark in four consecutive years.

He holds the Ranger record for most minutes played in a season – 4306 in 2007-08 – and also holds the second, fifth and tenth spots respectively. In fact, of the twelve seasons where Ranger netminders have recorded 4000 or more minutes, he has four of them.

He hasn’t just been sitting on his hands either. Lundqvist also set a record for the most shots faced last year as a Ranger netminder, turning aside 1942 of the record setting 2109 sent his way, surpassing the previous team high set in 2008-09 when he became the first Blueshirt goaltender to face over 2000 shots in the regular season.

While many will point to Martin Brodeur across the river as proof that it can be done, it should be noted that while the Devils netminder played 295 more minutes than Lundqvist, he also faced 373 fewer shots. In fact, Brodeur has only faced 1900 or more shots three times in his career, a mark that Lundqvist has already met.

What I’m trying to say is he’s played a lot of hockey.

So when Rangers goaltender coach Benoit Allaire approached the team’s brain trust with an interesting statistic, chances are they had already drawn the same conclusion. Since the lockout, no Stanley Cup Winning goalie has played in more than 62 games in a season, and Chris Osgood played in just 46 when Detroit took home the title last.

Enter Martin Biron.

With the addition of Biron, the Rangers now have their first legitimate option for spelling Lundqvist since his rookie year, allowing him to play closer to 60 than the more than 70 he’s been accustomed to. It’ll be interesting to see how Lundqvist and the coaching staff embrace the change.

At least anecdotally, it seemed that Lundqvist sometimes lost his edge when being spelled, and one wonders how things will play out if either Lundqvist or Biron get hot.

Ask Lundqvist himself, and the answer will always be that he wants to play every game, but for the first time in his career he’s talking up the possibility of having a legitimate backup who can spell him, and acknowledges that playing fewer games might be better for him over the entire season.

Then again, he’s normally been on top of his game at the end of the year. What will be more important, is whether the additional time off will help him improve his performances during the middle part of the season, when there’s less importance on games.

Traditionally Lundqvist, and the Rangers in general, have struggled with the period from late November through to late February. It’s the dog days of the season, when injuries, schedule and travel begin to wear the team down. The trading deadline is looming, and perhaps more than a couple of players are wondering where their future lies.

It’s during these months that Lundqvist needs to pick up his game, and it’s hoped that if he doesn’t, that Biron can step in and perhaps create some competition for starts.

Going into his sixth year in the NHL, it’s time for Lundqvist to take his game up another notch. Perhaps he’ll do just that.

2009-10 Statistics
Team: New York Rangers (NHL)
Stats: 35-27-10 0.921 Save Percentage and 2.38 Goals Against Average in 73 games

Prediction
Team: New York Rangers (NHL)
Stats: 31-23-5 0.917 Save Percentage and 2.42 Goals Against Average in 62 games

Trivia
Over the Summer Lundqvist was romantically linked to Princess Madeleine of the Swedish royal family.

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